AFTER rising 365 points or 14 per cent from the start of the year until yesterday's opening - including 52 points this week alone - the Straits Times Index (STI) yesterday caved in, losing 34.48 points or 1.1 per cent at 2,977.20.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index set the tone when it closed with a 0.4 per cent loss but the real kicker was Europe, which opened sharply lower. At 5pm, European stocks were, on average, just over one per cent down while US futures were soft with the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures 40 points weaker.
Observers struggled to find plausible reasons for the pressure, finally attributing it to a possible delay in giving Greece the money it needs to avoid a bond default, as well as credit ratings agency Moody's Investors Service indicating it may downgrade global banks.
A more likely explanation was that investors had bought heavily ahead of Greece's bailout and were now selling after news now that most hurdles have been cleared.
Whatever the case, turnover dipped from $2.2 billion on Wednesday to $1.6 billion yesterday, excluding foreign currency issues. There were 80 rises versus 370 falls, excluding warrants.
Among the index stocks to weaken was Genting Singapore, which dropped 2.5 cents to $1.68 on volume of 64.9 million shares traded. In its results preview for Genting yesterday, Kim Eng said it expects the casino to record 4Q11 Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) of around $350 million, which would bring the whole year's Ebitda to $1.6 billion, a 15 per cent increase from the previous year.
'We understand that the mass market segment compensated for slower VIP volume in 4Q11. Going forward, we are upbeat on 2012 post the opening of the Equarius Hotel & Beach Villas and potential expansion into Japan and Mongolia. Maintain 'buy' with the target price raised to $2.10,' said Kim Eng.
Keppel Corp was among the biggest index losers when it lost 30 cents at $10.72 with 5.8 million shares traded.
In its 'buy' report on Keppel yesterday, DMG & Partners said it recently organised a tour to Keppel Fels' Pioneer Yard and Keppel Shipyard's Tuas Yard for a group of fund managers and analysts.
'Pioneer Yard appears to be running at full production capacity with 13 rigs lined up at the quay for work. We understand that the yard schedule is full for the next 12 months,' said DMG. The broker said it has raised its target price for Keppel to $13.40 because of a higher price/earnings multiple for Keppel's offshore and marine business.
Meanwhile, property stocks weakened despite news that private home sales for January were robust - City Developments, Keppel Land, UOL and Wing Tai all fell.
In its assessment of the latest property sales figures, OCBC Investment Research said that the key driver of January sales was undoubtedly still healthy mass-market demand, underpinned by strong HDB resale prices and monetary liquidity.
'However, given the strong show of political will to cool prices in Dec 11, we are wary of more curbs if headline sales escalate from here,' said the broker.
'We also remain cautious of the likely lagged impact on mass segment demand should global macro issues weigh on domestic economic growth ahead. Maintain 'neutral' on residential developers.'